Examine the speaker's relationship to nature and beauty in "An Agony. As Now."
The speaker is physically alienated from the natural world in "An Agony. As Now." He only experiences sunlight through "slits in the metal" of his bodily enclosure (line 7). The speaker also understands that "beauty" is "practiced" by nature through things like trees, a river, and a "white sun," (lines 30-1). As the speaker of "An Agony. As Now" experiences the psychological rift between body and soul, he cannot physically connect with nature. Bodies in this poem are unfeeling, and as a result the souls inside them are disconnected from the outside world.
How does the speaker experience a rift between his body and his soul in "An Agony. As Now."?
The speaker in this poem experiences a rift between his body and soul in which his soul feels trapped within his body and unable to escape: "I am inside someone / who hates me" (lines 1-2). The speaker does not enjoy any of the pleasures of the body and seems to loathe everything that comes in through his senses—the things he smells are "fouled tunes" and the women he loves are "wretched" (lines 3-6). The speaker reveals in Stanza VII that he lives in a "human love" (i.e. emotions, words, emotional connections) rather than in his physical body (line 39). Therefore, this poem rebels against all of the physical signs that usually make us recognizable as people; the speaker of this poem lives in the soul.
Analyze some of the formal features of "An Agony. As Now." that help to reflect its meaning.
Baraka uses unconventional punctuation in "An Agony. As Now," including parentheses that do not have their pairs and unusual end-stops. The unusual punctuation might cause discomfort in the reader, which helps to extend the uncanny and distressing mood of the poem. For example, at the beginning of Stanza III, we see an open-parenthesis introduce an emotionally-heightened phrase that is never given a close-parenthesis: "This is the enclosure. (flesh / where innocence is a weapon" (lines 12-3). The open-parenthesis highlights this phrase and the lack of close-parenthesis leaves it hanging with no sense of resolution. This, in turn, highlights the phrase even more.